Opioid therapy rSPRINGFIELD – Legislation providing access to medical alternatives to opioids as a means to combat the opioid crisis became law today, making Illinois the first state in the nation to enact such a measure.

State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) sponsored the legislation, which creates a pilot program allowing individuals over the age of 21 with any condition for which opioids might be prescribed to apply for temporary access to the state’s medical cannabis program.

“The opioid crisis is getting worse at an alarming rate,” Harmon said. “People dealing with severe pain and other medical conditions are looking for relief, and it is becoming increasingly clear that opioids may not be the safest treatment. We must be open to any reasonable alternative, and I am thankful for the support I received on both sides of the aisle for this legislation, and to the governor for signing it into law.”

New data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that opioid deaths are on the rise nationwide, with an estimated 72,000 people dying of an opioid-related overdose in 2017, including a 10 percent increase in deaths in Illinois.

Under the program, patients will obtain a physician’s certification that they have a condition for which an opioid could be prescribed. They may then take that to a dispensary to receive medical cannabis for a fixed period of time.

“Studies show that opioid dependence can develop within a week or even a few days of use,” Harmon said. “This law gives people a chance to act quickly and pursue another treatment option if they choose.”

To help clean up the backlog of applications for the full medical cannabis program at the Illinois Department of Public Health, the measure also allows anyone with a qualifying condition for the medical cannabis program to take physician certification to a dispensary to receive cannabis on a provisional basis while their application is processed.

Senate Bill 336 takes effect immediately.